CL Preview: BATE Borisov – FC Barcelona, 2:45pmEST Fox Deportes and Fox Sports Affiliate HD
In 1998, a small football club based around automotive factories in the Belarusian city of Barysaw signed a 17-year old player from Minsk. They promoted him in 1999 to the first team and the team promptly won their first ever league title in just their second year in the top flight. That player, an integral part of their title run, was promptly duly snapped up a year later by Stuttgart and the career of one Aliaksandr Paulavich Gleb, better known in the West as Alexander Hleb, went into overdrive. 11 years later the owner of his contract–Spanish club FC Barcelona, if you’ve heard of them–travel to Barysaw to face BATE Borisov in a Champions League group stage match.
For his part, Hleb, who is playing on loan at German club Wolfsburg, is rooting for…you guessed it, BATE Borisov. On the surface that’s a completely outlandish thing to say: Barça pays the bills and he might be reincorporated into the squad in January if Wolfsburg doesn’t want to continue his loan beyond December; if you’d like to engender even more negative feelings between yourself and your club, that seems a pretty straight forward way to do it. “I cheer for the teams that play my employers.” But then again, it is his youth team and he’s not actually playing for Barça right now and, most importantly, he seems to be saying that he’s got so little faith in BATE actually winning that he can root for them without the least bit of guilt. “I can see them maybe getting a point,” he said.
It’s still a strange thing to say, of course.
BATE comes in on the back of something like infinity plus one consecutive league championships. They’ve won the Belarusian Premier League for the last 5 years (2006-10) and currently lead the standings by 11 points with 7 matches left to play. Remember, as an Eastern European team, they play between April and November to avoid the winter as much as possible. The previous time they were in the Champions League they were in Real Madrid’s Group H in the 2008-09 edition. They ended with 3 points from 3 draws and 3 losses, pulling off 2 draws against Juventus and one against Zenit St. Petersburg. With their draw against Viktoria Plzeň, they’ve shown themselves still capable of earning points in the CL.
Basically: beware the draw in Belarus. They may not be able to garner 3 points, but they can take 2 away from you.
Barça’s squad list: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Fàbregas, Puyol, Xavi, Villa, Messi, Thiago, Mascherano, Keita, Busquets, Pedro, Maxwell, Adriano, Abidal, Fontàs, Cuenca, and Dos Santos.
Side question: do you think Valdés and Piqué have banded their acute accents together in a diacritical fight to the death with Fàbregas and Fontàs, who staunchly support the grave accent mark party? I think so. And do you think that Victor and Gerard yell at Andreu about it during matches? I can’t imagine anything else happening.
So, while BATE might have 11 Hlebs to field–shudder–we have a secret weapon. One that will prove all the naysayers wrong and create magical moments of brilliant art on the field with sweeping moves and well-timed tackles. Yeah, I’m talking about the superstar bench-warmer in the making, Jonathan dos Santos. No doubt Cesc’s presence in the squad has limited his playing options, but I think it’s probably true that JDS has limited JDS’s playing options via late night hooker parties and a general career disorganization (including keeping his father around as an agent and spokesman).
Predicted lineup [updated with proper number of players]: Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Busi, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Messi, Villa. That leaves Pep with the ability to attack and also put on Thiago, Mascherano, and Adriano as subs. Or, I suppose, Cuenca and JDS if we’re up 80-0.
Official Prediction: 0-3, Barça. Goals by Messi (2), and Piqué. I know I said beware the draw, but I think this team will have its head on right after that mauling of Atleti and will not want to leave any more of this group stage up to chance than they absolutely have to.
Manuel Gräfe will be the referee in what I believe will be his second ever Champions League match. He previously reffed last year’s 0-0 draw between Panathinaikos and Rubin Kazan (one of the matches in Barça’s group) and now takes over this match. If BATE lose, I’m sure Jose Mourinho will claim that Gräfe, like all referees, favors Barça because of the Qatar Foundation logo on the front. The thing is, though, Gräfe was one of the guys who went to the DFB (German FA) with information regarding the 2005 Bundesliga scandal, so it’s unlikely that QF has so muddled his brain that he’s going to lay the game at Barça’s doorstep. Unless it is all subliminal and only Mourinho can resist it. Holy crumpets, Batman, I just realized how it all works!
In the end, though, obviously the only reasonable explanation is that